My Path to enlightenment

January 26, 2009
By Raquel Higginbotham, Hillside, NJ

“I don’t think I remember you from eighth grade.” I sat lazily on my mother’s bed one Saturday night as I dwelled on my boyfriend, Roger’s, statement. “Yeah, I don’t think many people do.” I replied. “I was a horrible person, I mean, I was a little more pessimistic compared to now.” Roger naturally didn’t agree having seen who I am today. He could not understand why I was saying these negative things about myself, though some were a bit exaggerated, when people usually say that I am nice. To prove my point, I read to him a part of the last entry of my eighth grade journal:

“I’m so use to being by myself that I really don’t need to feel alone. In a way that made me a bit of an outcast in my school environment. Also, I have a very weird and dysfunctional family, so I can sometimes have a negative attitude, and I’m very sarcastic. Not only that, but I appeared shy, quiet, and weird. I started to rise a bit more from my “intense” awkward stage in seventh grade. When I was in 5th grade, I didn’t laugh much, Darian remembers. I didn’t laugh because I was immune to laughter it’s just, I don’t know, I was weird and they weren’t funny. Well, I’m still an outcast, and people still see me as a geek. But I’m trying to change a bit. During what’s supposed to be my coolest years (high school) and the rest of my life, I’m not gonna be phony, I won’t give in to bad peer pressure, I won’t do anything I don’t want to do. Like, for instance, joining track. If I don’t wanna do it, I don’t wanna do it. That doesn’t make me a punk, it just means that I know what I want and know what I don’t want. My life, my body, my decision. No one has the right to force me to do anything I don’t feel comfortable with. It’s clearly not my interest. What I’m doing is an example of standing up for myself, and what I believe in. Yeah…I’ll make a difference in my life. A positive one.”

Roger was at first speechless, but soon added that I’m nothing like that now. I completely agree. I have changed a lot for the better and became tons more positive but I still feel that I have a long way to go. I am not as happy as I could be. I am confident in what my personality is today but I feel that there is a lot more that life will add on and take away that I have not gained or losed at this stage in my life. My path to enlightenment is not one of religious or spiritual growth, as that is whole different story, but of completing what makes me, me. It is one of not finding out who I am, because I already know who I am, but completing that image. Completing my life cycle and truly being happy with my life and who I am.

My eighth grade journal documents who I was in the past and how I have changed since then. I still continue to change without re-inventing myself. That very same night, Roger and I began to discuss changes within ourselves and even our friends. After a moment of silence he asked, “Have you ever had a friend whose personality was based solely on you and your friends?” I thought about it for a moment and said yes and he continued, “like, whatever you like, they like and when you don’t like it they don’t like it anymore too?”
I had mentioned a friend I had like that when he went on to talk about his friend Chris who is at the age of twenty five. Even though Chris is much older than Roger and his best friend Nelson, his current likes and dislikes are heavily influenced by them. For instance, Roger and Nelson influenced Chris’s love for the band U2, his love for the sport soccer and even a foul mouth. I couldn’t help but laugh because that reminded me of Govinda from Siddhartha. I explained the situation to Roger and he laughed. “He sounds like a biter.” He said. I couldn’t help but agree. Govinda seemed to follow everything Siddhartha did because he felt that would lead him on the path to enlightenment. He didn’t do it because he knew it to be right, or that he felt it in his heart to be true but because deep down all he really was, was a follower. I could never be that way. Based on my definition of enlightenment, Govinda’s path to enlightenment would have been rendered false. How can you honestly be happy if you do not know who you are? You cannot say that you know yourself and that your life is truly complete if you are letting others judge your decisions in life. Individuality is an important key to enlightenment and that individuality and what makes us who we are continues to grow as we do and complete the cycle of life.

My idea of enlightenment formed solid when I explained what the book Siddhartha was about to Roger as he listened with intent. After explaining to him why I liked it, he asked, “Well, do you think you reached enlightenment?” His question made me think; what exactly determines that? I know that my definition is not going to be the same as someone else’s. Is my path to enlightenment in anyway like Siddhartha’s?

My goal is to be happy and to truly be complete, so can that be classified as enlightenment? The dictionary definition of enlightenment is education that results in understanding and the spread of knowledge. Other dictionaries define it as the state of being enlightened. Then what is it to be enlightened? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as freed from ignorance and misinformation. That is exactly what Siddhartha has gained and what I am slowly gaining as life moves on.

Siddhartha gained enlightenment through his meditation by the river. It was through that moment that he awakened from his ignorance of the world around him and realized that enlightenment comes with an understanding of that very same world. Every life cycle, every life experience, the human emotions, they make you wiser. His enlightenment came with knowing himself as a human being. That is very similar to my own definition except I would add in not only ignorance and lack of understanding of the world around you but ignorance and lack of understanding of yourself.

Unlike Siddhartha, I have not gained this enlightenment because I am still growing. I have not lived my life to its fullest potential. My influences, my wants and desires, my interests will change. Besides, it’s a possibility that who I am today might not be who I might become after college. The experiences that life will throw at me influence my thoughts and shape who I am. As I stated before, I have a long way to go until I can say I reached enlightenment. Who I am is still growing for I still have yet to experience love in the form of romance and the love a mother has for a child, being alone to fend for myself and many other positives and negatives that come with the transition to not only a teen to an adult but from a young adult to middle aged and so on. Even though there are many changes I haven’t gone through and lessons I have not yet learned, If I were to die tomorrow, I could honestly say that I did not reach enlightenment, but for the stage of life that I am currently in, I would say that I am content with how my life has turned out so far.

The author's comments:
I am currently a senior in highschool I will be going to college to major in English Teacher Education this fall. I was inspired to write this assignment for my Advanced Placement English Class after reading the book Siddhartha in class. The topic was to write about what we think enlightment is and if we had reached it yet.

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